Five Life Stories That Changed My Life
"Your life changed five times?" a smart aleck said when I mentioned I'd be blogging on this subject. Call me a flibbertigibbet, but yes: Five times. Ten, if only space would allow!
The truth is: Some see the world with fresh eyes through wild adventures. For me, the revelations always come via books.
Have you ever wondered why memoirs have had such a good run over the past few years? They're such confessionals, many of them insipidly so. But the best can enlighten and inspire -- or even be reliable as manuals: Read "The Year of Magical Thinking" to know how it feels to be stung by tragedy. Read "Dreaming" to learn that there are drunks in other families, too. Read "Borrowed Finery" to know you can survive an orphanage. Some memoirs are so shocking that readers feel privy to a friend's most intimate secrets: If that "friend" is later exposed as a liar (think "A Million Little Pieces" or, most recently, "Love and Consequences"), readers feel grievously betrayed.
But the reason I love memoirs is for what some have taught me about myself. In my favorites, I've seen people I might have been. Or people I might become.
Here are five that changed me in one small way or another:
1. Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov. I read this when I was 13. I had just started to study Russian and I assumed I was reading an exquisitely rendered translation. But Nabokov had written it in a language not his own! It was my introduction to the notion that I, who had grown up in another language and country, could claim English as lustily. Hadn't Conrad? To this day, I consider Speak, Memory the best memoir ever written; and among the top 10 books of my life.
2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. Reading it in college, I understood that I was a person of color -- for everything Angelou felt as an African American, I, as an Hispanic, felt, too. But Angelou's book also teaches you something about being female; from it, I learned that even my smallest successes would be hardwon.
3. Hunger of Memory, by Richard Rodriguez. When this was published in 1982, the Latino population in America was just beginning to realize it was a force to be reckoned with. Rodriguez showed that its constituents were wildly different. It's a lesson the country has yet to learn.
4. This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff. I had to get it into my head that I was half Anglo, too. This book taught me about being an American -- high-spirited, free and mobile. With a highway just beyond the door.
5. The Liars' Club, by Mary Karr. My father was from Peru, but my mother was from Wyoming. This Texas memoir, which I read well into middle age, was nothing like the Peruvian childhood I had experienced, and yet, it felt like bedrock. Despite class, despite culture, despite language -- it was (uncomfortably!) like home.
-- Marie Arana
By Christian Pelusi |
March 6, 2008; 7:18 AM ET
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